Bach Classical European Music Festival small group tours
Enjoy the best of Bach travelling with mature couples or solo travellers in a small group tour. We take time to appreciate not just the music but also to explore Bach's history and influences in Germany. The program spends 16 days visiting the locations that where influences on his life as well as attending the Bach Music festival in Leipzig.
- 1. Learn about Johann Sebastian Bach and his influence on European music.
- 2. Enjoy a mix of 6 classical concerts and vocal music composed by Bach.
- 3. Experience the places Bach lived and attend the Bachfest in Leipzig.
- 4. Explore the cities of Berlin, Leipzig, Dresden, Weimar, Erfurt, Eisenach, Arnstadt Köthen and Hamburg.
|07 June 2024 |
Ends 22 June 2024 • 16 days
|06 June 2025 |
Ends 21 June 2025 • 16 days
Exploring the life and work of Johann Sebastian Bach
Odyssey offers easy, convenient, and relaxed escorted small group tours across Western Europe and beyond. We explore Germany’s incredible natural beauty, its city state and imperial heritage, World Heritage Sites, and world famous cities, all with some truly spectacular scenery along the way. This and more is all waiting to be explored on one of Odyssey’s small group tours of Germany, designed for the senior traveller, and led by experienced, and enthusiastic like minded people.
While Johann Sebastian Bach is renowned as one of the greatest composers of all time and his compositions receive worldwide acclaim, the man himself is somewhat of a mystery. Born in Eisenach, Germany in 1685 to a family that already had significant music credentials, his use of counterpoint, harmonic and motivic organisation transformed the music of the 18th century and beyond. But what led him to become one of the greatest composers in history? Our Bach small group tours seek to answer this question for music lovers and history lovers. We trace the footsteps of the German composer with our Program Leader and local tour guide, visiting the cities and destinations with which he is best associated. We will return with a greater understanding, and even deeper appreciation, of Johann Sebastian Bach.
This small group tour starts in Berlin and finishes in Hamburg. These Bach small group tours also include the Bach Music Festival, which in 2024 takes place between June 7th to the 16th in Leipzig. Odyssey Traveller has created a 16-day tour with 6 world-class concerts. During our journey exploring the life and work of Johann Sebastian Bach, we will spend time in Berlin (3 nights), Dresden (2 nights), Leipzig (3 nights), Weimar (3 nights), Halberstadt (1 night), and Hamburg (2 nights).
The group will travel to the major locations that influenced Bach as he grew up and where, as an adult, his influences were quickly established. In order to ensure an informative experience, visits with knowledgeable local guides have been arranged. Therefore, you will have access to genuine enthusiasts who will share their interest in the man and his music.
The concerts and recitals attended by the group are influenced by those offered by the Bach Festival. Concerts listed on the itinerary are indicative only and based on previous years' offerings.
Due to the special nature of this tour including the Bach music festival, the group is usually limited to 14 participants.
This Bach Music Festival small group tour is fully escorted, offering a fabulous experience for all lovers of Bach’s music.
For more details, click the ‘Top 5’ or ‘Itinerary’ buttons above! If you’re keen to experience this tour, please call or send an email. Or, to book, simply fill in the form on the right hand side of this page.
Learn more about Germany and Bach
Links to learn more about Bach
- Books about Johann Sebastian Bach
- Learn more about Germany
- Johann Sebastian Bach Biography
- Bach's Vocal Music - The New York Times
- The young Bach - The Guardian
Tours to Europe by Odyssey Traveller
- All small group tours to Europe
Day 1: Berlin
Accommodation: 3 nights at Hotel Maritim Pro Arte or similar.
Upon arrival in Berlin we will check into the hotel. In the late afternoon, we have a welcome drinks followed by dinner.
There will be time to visit some of the city’s fine art galleries as well as to learn about its more recent past for those who arrive early.
Day 2: Berlin
Accommodation: Hotel Hotel Maritim Pro Art or similar.
Our day begins with a city tour of Berlin including visits to the Berlin Wall and Brandenburg Gate. The remainder of the afternoon is at leisure.
In the evening we go to Berlin’s Konzerthaus for a piano concert by Sir Andras Schiff where he’ll play:
Johann Sebastian Bach “Concerto nach italienischem Gusto” F-Dur BWV 971
Ludwig van Beethoven “Konzert für Klavier und Orchester Nr. 1 C-Dur op. 15″
Béla Bartók “Konzert für Orchester”
Day 3: Berlin
Accommodation: Hotel Hotel Maritim Pro Art or similar.
We will take a day trip to Potsdam to explore the UNESCO listed Palaces and Parks of Fredrick the Great. J.S. Bach visited Fredrick the Great at Potsdam in 1747. Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, J.S Bach’s fifth child and second (surviving) son, was employed as a court musician at Potsdam between 1738 and 1768.
Day 4: Berlin to Dresden
Accommodation: 2 nights at Holiday Inn Express Dresden or similar.
After breakfast, we enjoy a guided tour of the Berlin Philharmonic Concert Hall.
Later we transfer to Dresden by coach. After checking-in we’ll make our way to visit the Historic Green Vault, which holds a spectacular collection of treasures, and is Europe’s first public museum, and complete the day with a guided tour of Semperoper, Dresden’s grand opera house.
In the evening we have a group dinner at our hotel.
Day 5: Dresden
Accommodation: Holiday Inn Express Dresden or similar.
This morning we have a guided tour of the city of Dresden on foot including a visit to Dresden’s Frauenkirche. We will have some free time for lunch in the city (own arrangements) and we will then have a guided tour of the Semperoper.
Day 6: Dresden to Leipzig
Accommodation: 3 nights at NH Zentrum or similar.
In the morning we travel to Leipzig by coach. In the afternoon we have a walking tour of the city including Nikolaikirche, Thomaskirche and the Bach monuments. His monument looks over to the Bach Museum, where his musical heritage is maintained and intensive research of his works is performed. We will then have dinner at a local restaurant.
J.S. Bach lived in Leipzig between 1723-1750 after being appointed as Thomaskantor, Cantor of the Thomasschule at the Thomaskirche (St. Thomas Church).
This evening we will attend the Bachfest event:
“Passion” at Nikolaikirche
Dinner this evening will be at a local restaurant.
Day 7: Leipzig
Accommodation: NH Zentrum or similar.
We start this morning with a guided visit to the Bach Museum. No other German city has such a grand musical tradition as Leipzig. Many composers have a close connection with the city: Wagner was born here and pianist Clara Wieck achieved enormous success here. This is not only where Mendelssohn and Schumann composed many of their most important works, but also where they intensively studied the works of J.S. Bach. Bach, presumably the city’s most famous resident, lived and worked in the city of Leipzig for 27 years. Here he composed works such as the “Mass in B Minor” and the “Art of Fugue”; this is also where the St. Thomas’ Church is located, his main creative domain and his grave.
In the afternoon we visit the Leipzig History Museum, including the council chambers where Bach signed his employment contract.
Tonight’s Bachfest performances we’ll attend are:
“Jagd und Schäferkantate” at Kupfersaal
“Familienduell” at Alte Börse
Day 8: Leipzig
Accommodation: NH Zentrum or similar.
Today we continue exploring Leipzig and visit the Mendelssohn Museum, the house in which Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy lived and died. Built in the late classicist era, the house has been carefully restored. It was the composer’s last private address, and the only one of his residences that can still be visited. Mendelssohn was active here not only as a composer and music director, but also as a cultural politician and piano virtuoso. Here, we can experience the authentic atmosphere of the apartment on the second floor where the Mendelssohn family lived from 1845 and which is furnished in the style of late Biedermeier.
As a group today, we will be attending as part of Bachfest “Weimarer Kantaten 1″at Thomaskirche and “Triplekonzerte” at Evangelisch Reformierte Kirche.
Day 9: Leipzig to Weimar
Accommodation: 3 nights at Dorint AM Goethepark or similar.
Today we travel from Leipzg to Weimar. We take a walking tour of the city, and visit Bachkirke and the wonderful Duchess Anna Amalia Library.
J.S. Bach came to Weimar more than 300 years ago and spent 9 important years of his life there. His sons Wilhelm Friedemann and Carl Philipp Emanuel were born in Weimar. This is also where he composed three-quarters of his organ works as well as numerous cantatas and harpsichord works. He was court organist and concertmaster, it was the first time he had a trained orchestra at his disposal. In Weimar he began working on his “Orgelbüchlein” (Little Organ Book). Numerous events, such as the Bach Festival in Thuringia in March and April, the Bach Biennale in July, and the organ concerts in the pre-Christmas period pay homage to the great composer.
Day 10: Eisenach
Accommodation: Dorint Am Goethepark or similar.
Today we take a day trip to Eisenach. Wartburg Castle, which has been on the UNESCO World Heritage List since 1999, was once the residence of St. Elisabeth of Thuringia. This was where Martin Luther translated the New Testament and Richard Wagner was inspired to compose his opera “Tannhäuser.” Martin Luther spent 3 years of his time at school in the house of the patrician Cotta family, which is now called Luther’s House. In Eisenach, visitors can find traces of European music history.
The world’s oldest and largest Bach Museum is located in Johann Sebastian Bach’s birthplace. Every hour there is a small concert performed on original historical instruments – it is not surprising that the Bach House is one of the most popular music museums in Germany. Inside the 500-year-old timber-framed house, which was furnished in 1907 by the Weimar court antiquary himself, Bach’s life story can be experienced up close. In Johann Sebastian Bach’s birthplace, 4 organists from his family worked at the Georgenkirche, in which he was christened. This was where Pachelbel played the organ and court band master Georg Philipp Telemann performed his religious works at the beginning of the 18th century.
Day 11: Erfurt
Accommodation: Dorint Am Goethepark or similar.
Today we take a day trip to Erfurt. We enjoy a guided walking tour of the city visiting its main sights, including the Predigerkirche, Kramerbruecke, the Cathedral and Severi Church.
No other city was as connected with the Bach family as the present-day capital of Thuringia. In the 17th century, Erfurt’s musical life was heavily influenced by various members of the Bach family, several of which were head of the Erfurt Orchestra or musicians. Sixty one children of the widely ramified Bach family were christened in the Kaufmannskirche in Erfurt and 12 Bach couples married here, including Johann Sebastian’s parents. Most members of the family lived in Erfurt, and it is from here that their music spread across all of Central Germany. In 1716, Johann Sebastian examined the organ of the Augustinian Church.
Day 12: Arnstadt
Accommodation: Dorint Am Goethepark or similar.
Today we have a morning excursion to Arnstadt. We will have a guided tour of the Johan Sebastian Bach Church, where we will listen to an organ recitial.
At the age of 18 years, Johann Sebastian Bach accepted his first post as organist of the New Church in Arnstadt. In Arnstadt, the young Bach not only fell in love with his first wife, Maria Barbara, but it is also known that he had some amorous adventures in the residential city. He arbitrarily extended a holiday for a 4 week study trip to Lübeck to over 3 months. His organ playing also came under criticism. “He changes the key too often, plays dissonant chords and consternates the congregation with unusual sounds.” His records point to other emerging streaks in his youthful and dynamic nature: he accompanied an unknown damsel into the church gallery and had a vehement argument with his chorister, Geyersbach, at the marketplace. In Arnstadt, visitors can experience a young Bach at the beginning of his international career.
The afternoon is free to explore Weimar at your own pace.
Day 13: Weimar to Kothen, then Halberstadt
Accommodation: 1 night at Park Hotel unter den Linden or similar.
Today we travel to Köthen, where we enjoy a guided walking tour of the city, including visits to Köthen Castle and St. Agnus Church.
J.S. Bach lived in Köthen between 1717 and 1723 as Director of Music for Prince Leopold. As court conductor, Bach spent many eventful and productive years in the Imperial City in the service of the musically well-educated Prince Leopold. Famous works such as the Brandenburg Concertos and the first part of the Well-Tempered Clavier were created, and there were also significant changes in Bach’s life. Köthen is where his first wife, Maria Barbara, lies buried, but it is also where his wedding with his second wife Anna Magdalena took place. Visitors travelling in Bach’s footsteps will discover great variety in this county seat with its lovingly restored Old Town. Be it the Bach Church of St. Agnus, the palace with its exhibitions, or a concert at the event centre, this is where Bach can be experienced!
After Köthen we travel to Halberstadt, where we check into our hotel. Dinner at the hotel is included.
Day 14: Halberstadt to Hamburg
Accommodation: 2 nights at Hyperion Hotel Hamburg or similar.
After breakfast we travel to Hamburg, on arrival we’ll check-in to our hotel and the remainder of the day is at leisure.
Hamburg was once described by the composer Georg Philipp Telemann as a place “where music seems, as it were, to have its homeland.” The many-faceted Baroque composer was municipal Director of Music here for 46 years. Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, the “Hamburg Bach,” and Telemann’s godson, succeeded him in 1768. C.P.E Bach moved to Hamburg from Potsdam in 1768 and succeeded his godfather Telemann as Musical Director of Hamburgs’s 5 Lutheran churches. He died there in 1788.
Mendelssohn was born in Hamburg in 1809. He was celebrated by his contemporaries as an “original genius” and lived in the city up to his death in 1788. The Bergedorf-born composer Johann Adolf Hasse also began his meteoric rise to international fame at the Hamburg Opera House on Gänsemarkt, going on to be the toast of such cities as Naples, Dresden, and Venice.
At the beginning of the 19th century, the immensely musically gifted siblings Fanny and Felix Mendelssohn were born in Hamburg. Johannes Brahms, born in the Gängeviertel, made his debut as a pianist and composer here. Brahms achieved worldwide fame outside his home city, which awarded him honorary citizenship in 1889.
In 1891 Gustav Mahler came to Hamburg to take up a position as First Conductor at the Hamburg Stadt-Theater. He brought operatic and concert music here to new, unparalleled heights of excellence.
Day 15: Hamburg
Accommodation: Hyperion Hotel Hamburg or similar.
Today we explore Hamburg with our local guide. We start with a walking tour of the historic centre in the morning and in the afternoon we visit the Brahms Museum and Komponistenquartier. Here we learn about Georg Philipp Telemann, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, Johann Adolf Hasse, Fanny and Felix Mendelssohn, Johannes Brahms, and Gustav Mahler in an attractive, lively, and educational venue.
Hamburg was once described by the composer Georg Philipp Telemann as a place “where music seems, as it were, to have its homeland.” The many-faceted Baroque composer was municipal Director of Music here for 46 years. Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, the “Hamburg Bach” and Telemann’s godson, succeeded him in 1768. He was celebrated by his contemporaries as an “original genius” and lived in the city up to his death in 1788. The Bergedorf-born composer Johann Adolf Hasse also began his meteoric rise to international fame at the Hamburg Opera House on Gänsemarkt, going on to be the toast of such cities as Naples, Dresden, and Venice.
At the beginning of the 19th century, the immensely musically gifted siblings Fanny and Felix Mendelssohn were born in Hamburg. Johannes Brahms, born in the Gängeviertel, made his debut as a pianist and composer here. Brahms achieved worldwide fame outside his home city, which awarded him honorary citizenship in 1889. In 1891 Gustav Mahler came to Hamburg to take up a position as First Conductor at the Hamburg Stadt-Theater. He brought operatic and concert music here to new, unparalleled heights of excellence.
At the end of 2014, new museums dedicated to the “Hamburg Bach” and his contemporary Johann Adolf Hasse opened for the public. For the first time, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach will thus, in the year of the tricentenary of his birth, receive recognition befitting his rank, close to the places where he lived and worked and not far from his last resting place in the crypt of St. Michael’s Church. Museums for Fanny and Felix Mendelssohn and for Gustav Mahler will then be added in a second construction phase.
The musical tradition of the Hanseatic city from the Baroque to modern times will be presented in a way which makes it come vividly to life.
In the evening we have our farewell dinner at a local restaurant.
Day 16: Hamburg
The tour concludes after breakfast.
- Concerts listed are indicative only and subject to change pending on this year's offerings and schedule. Selected concerts will be advised closer to departure,
Includes / Excludes
What’s included in our Tour
- 15 nights of accommodation in 4 star hotels
- 15 breakfasts and 5 dinners.
- Tickets to 6 concerts.
- All excursions, sightseeing, and entrance fees as per the tour.
- Gratuities and necessary tips.
- Detailed preparatory material.
- Odyssey Program Leader throughout the tour.
What’s not included in our Tour
- Return international airfare and departure taxes.
- Comprehensive international travel insurance.
- Items of personal nature such as laundry and phone calls.
Participants must be able to carry their own luggage, climb and descend stairs, be in good health, mobile and able to participate in 3-5 hours of physical activity per day, the equivalent of walking / hiking up to 8 kilometers per day on uneven ground.
Make it a private tour
Easing your journey
Crossing international borders with restrictions
The list of requirements to travel internationally has changed and will continue to change for several years. Odyssey is here to assist you in managing your way through these requirements:
For more information see our Crossing international borders with restrictions page.
Book With Confidence
If less than 30 days before your tour starts you are unable to travel as a result of Government travel restrictions, Odyssey Traveller will assist you with a date change, provide you with a credit or process a refund for your booking less any non-recoverable costs.
See Terms and conditions for details.
Peace of Mind Travel
The safety of our travellers, tour leader, local guide and support staff has always been our top priority and with the new guidelines for public health and safety for keeping safe for destinations around the world, we’ve developed our plan to give you peace of mind when travelling with us.
See Peace of Mind Travel for details.
Dear Robert, Thanks for your guidance and leadership on our Bach Odyssey. You really were fabulous. See you in Berlin.
Participant June -16
Dear Robert, Thank you so much for a very happy and informative journey. You made it all the more enjoyable by your sensitive consideration of all our separate needs and interests. Enjoy the rest of your trip.
Participant June -16
Reading List Download PDF
Bach: A Musical Biography
J. S. Bach composed some of the best-loved and most moving music in Western culture. Surviving mostly in manuscript collections, his music also exists in special and unique publications that reveal much about his life and thoughts as a composer. In this book, Peter Williams, author of the acclaimed J. S. Bach: A Life in Music, revisits Bach's biography through the lens of his music. Reviewing all of Bach's music chronologically, Williams discusses the music collection by collection to reveal the development of Bach's interests and priorities. While a great deal has been written about the composer's vocal works, Williams gives the keyboard music its proper emphasis, revealing it as crucial to Bach's biography, as a young organist and a mature composer, as a performer in public and teacher in private, and as a profound thinker in the language of music.
Bach & God
Bach & God explores the religious character of Bach's vocal and instrumental music in seven interrelated essays. Noted musicologist Michael Marissen offers wide-ranging interpretive insights from careful biblical and theological scrutiny of the librettos. Yet he also shows how Bach's pitches, rhythms, and tone colors can make contributions to a work's plausible meanings that go beyond setting texts in an aesthetically satisfying manner. In some of Bach's vocal repertory, the music puts a "spin" on the words in a way that turns out to be explainable as orthodox Lutheran in its orientation. In a few of Bach's vocal works, his otherwise puzzlingly fierce musical settings serve to underscore now unrecognized or unacknowledged verbal polemics, most unsettlingly so in the case of his church cantatas that express contempt for Jews and Judaism. Finally, even Bach's secular instrumental music, particularly the late collections of "abstract" learned counterpoint, can powerfully project certain elements of traditional Lutheran theology. Bach's music is inexhaustible, and Bach & God suggests that through close contextual study there is always more to discover and learn.
Bach's Major Vocal Works: Music, Drama, Liturgy
Every year, Johann Sebastian Bach’s major vocal works are performed to mark liturgical milestones in the Christian calendar. Written by a renowned Bach scholar, this concise and accessible book provides an introduction to the music and cultural contexts of the composer’s most beloved masterpieces, including the Magnificat, Christmas Oratorio, and St. John Passion.
In addition to providing historical information, each chapter highlights significant aspects—such as the theology of love—of a particular piece. This penetrating volume is the first to treat the vocal works as a whole, showing how the compositions were embedded in their original performative context within the liturgy as well as discussing Bach’s musical style, from the detailed level of individual movements to the overarching aspects of each work. Published in the approach to Easter when many of these vocal works are performed, this outstanding volume will appeal to casual concertgoers and scholars alike.
Johann Sebastian Bach: The Learned Musician
Although we have heard the music of J. S. Bach in countless performances and recordings, the composer himself still comes across only as an enigmatic figure in a single familiar portrait. As we mark the 250th anniversary of Bach’s death, author Christoph Wolff presents a new picture that brings to life this towering figure of the Baroque era. This engaging new biography portrays Bach as the living, breathing, and sometimes imperfect human being that he was, while bringing to bear all the advances of the last half-century of Bach scholarship.
Wolff demonstrates the intimate connection between the composer’s life and his music, showing how Bach’s superb inventiveness pervaded his career as musician, composer, performer, scholar, and teacher. And throughout, we see Bach in the broader context of his time: its institutions, traditions, and influences. With this highly readable book, Wolff sets a new standard for Bach biography. The Learned Musician was a finalist for the 2001 Pulitzer Prize in Biography.
Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven
John Eliot Gardiner
Johann Sebastian Bach is one of the most unfathomable composers in the history of music. How can such sublime work have been produced by a man who (when we can discern his personality at all) seems so ordinary, so opaque-and occasionally so intemperate? John Eliot Gardiner grew up passing one of the only two authentic portraits of Bach every morning and evening on the stairs of his parents’ house, where it hung for safety during World War II. He has been studying and performing Bach ever since, and is now regarded as one of the composer’s greatest living interpreters. The fruits of this lifetime’s immersion are distilled in this remarkable book, grounded in the most recent Bach scholarship but moving far beyond it, and explaining in wonderful detail the ideas on which Bach drew, how he worked, how his music is constructed, how it achieves its effects — and what it can tell us about Bach the man.
Gardiner’s background as a historian has encouraged him to search for ways in which scholarship and performance can cooperate and fruitfully coalesce. This has entailed piecing together the few biographical shards, scrutinizing the music, and watching for those instances when Bach’s personality seems to penetrate the fabric of his notation. Gardiner’s aim is “to give the reader a sense of inhabiting the same experiences and sensations that Bach might have had in the act of music-making. This, I try to show, can help us arrive at a more human likeness discernible in the closely related processes of composing and performing his music”. It is very rare that such an accomplished performer of music should also be a considerable writer and thinker about it. John Eliot Gardiner takes us as deeply into Bach’s works and mind as perhaps words can. The result is a unique book about one of the greatest of all creative artists.
The Cello Suites: J. S. Bach, Pablo Casals, and the Search for a Baroque Masterpiece
One evening, journalist Eric Siblin attended a recital of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Cello Suites and began an epic quest that would unravel three centuries of intrigue, politics, and passion. Winner of the Mavis Gallant Prize for Nonfiction and the McAuslan First Book Prize, The Cello Suites weaves together three dramatic narratives: the disappearance of Bach’s manuscript in the eighteenth century; Pablo Casals’s discovery and popularization of the music in Spain in the late-nineteenth century; and Siblin’s infatuation with the suites in the present day. The search led Siblin to Barcelona, where Casals, just thirteen and in possession of his first cello, roamed the backstreets with his father in search of sheet music and found Bach’s lost suites tucked in a dark corner of a store. Casals played them every day for twelve years before finally performing them in public. Siblin pursues the mysteries that continue to haunt this music more than 250 years after its composer’s death: Why did Bach compose the suites for the cello, then considered a lowly instrument? What happened to the original manuscript? A seamless blend of biography and music history, The Cello Suites is a true-life journey of discovery, fueled by the power of these musical masterpieces.
Evening in the Palace of Reason: Bach Meets Frederick the Great in the Age of Enlightenment
James R. Gaines
Johann Sebastian Bach created what may be the most celestial and profound body of music in history; Frederick the Great built the colossus we now know as Germany, and along with it a template for modern warfare. Their fleeting encounter in 1747 signals a unique moment in history where belief collided with the cold certainty of reason. Set at the tipping point between the ancient and modern world, Evening in the Palace of Reason captures the tumult of the eighteenth century, the legacy of the Reformation, and the birth of the Enlightenment in this extraordinary tale of two men.
Bach and the Meanings of Counterpoint: New Perspectives in Music History and Criticism
This book offers new interpretations of many of Bach’s late compositions which include complex musical techniques such as canon. These techniques held great significance for Bach and his contemporaries not only on account of the great skill they demanded but because of the meanings attached to them. Intricate musical devices were crucial to the Lutheran rituals of death and dying, to alchemy, to Enlightenment philosophies of stylistic change and musical progress, to musical representations of political power, and to the legacy of Bach into our own time.
Bach in Berlin: Nation and Culture in Mendelssohn’s Revival of the St. Matthew Passion
Bach’s St. Matthew Passion is universally acknowledged to be one of the world’s supreme musical masterpieces, yet in the years after Bach’s death it was forgotten by all but a small number of his pupils and admirers. The public rediscovered it in 1829, when Felix Mendelssohn conducted the work before a glittering audience of Berlin artists and intellectuals, Prussian royals, and civic notables. The concert soon became the stuff of legend, sparking a revival of interest in and performance of Bach that has continued to this day. Mendelssohn’s performance gave rise to the notion that recovering and performing Bach’s music was somehow “national work”. In 1865, Wagner would claim that Bach embodied “the history of the German spirit’s inmost life”. That the man most responsible for the revival of a masterwork of German Protestant culture was himself a converted Jew struck contemporaries as less remarkable than it does us today―a statement that embraces both the great achievements and the disasters of 150 years of German history.
In this book, Celia Applegate asks why this particular performance crystallized the hitherto inchoate notion that music was central to Germans’ collective identity. She begins with a wonderfully readable reconstruction of the performance itself and then moves back in time to pull apart the various cultural strands that would come together that afternoon in the Singakademie. The author investigates the role played by intellectuals, journalists, and amateur musicians (she is one herself) in developing the notion that Germans were “the people of music.” Applegate assesses the impact on music’s cultural place of the renewal of German Protestantism, historicism, the mania for collecting and restoring, and romanticism. In her conclusion, she looks at the subsequent careers of her protagonists and the lasting reverberations of the 1829 performance itself.
Bach’s Dialogue with Modernity: Perspectives on the Passions
Providing a detailed analysis of Bach’s Passions, this 2010 book represents an important contribution to the debate about the culture of ‘classical music’, its origins, priorities and survival. The angles from which each chapter proceeds differ from those of a traditional music guide, by examining the Passions in the light of the mindsets of modernity, and their interplay with earlier models of thought and belief. While the historical details of Bach’s composition, performance and theological context remain crucial, the foremost concern of this study is to relate these works to a historical context that may, in some threads at least, still be relevant today. The central claim of the book is that the interplay of traditional imperatives and those of early modernity renders Bach’s Passions particularly fascinating as artefacts that both reflect and constitute some of the priorities and conditions of the western world.
Bach: a Passionate Life
John Gardiner (writer and director)
As part of BBC’s Baroque Spring Season, BBC Two presented a new feature documentary presented by John Eliot Gardiner, one of the world’s leading interpreters of Bach’s music. This 90-minute documentary invites viewers on a journey to discover the man behind the music. Bach: A Passionate Life takes us on a physical, musical and intellectual journey in search of Bach, the man and the musician.
The Cambridge Companion to Bach
The Cambridge Companion to Bach goes beyond a basic life-and-works study to provide a late-twentieth-century perspective on J. S. Bach, the man and composer. Benefiting from the insights and research of some of the most distinguished Bach scholars, this Companion covers cultural, social and religious contexts, surveys and analyzes Bach’s compositional style, traces his influence, and considers the performance and reception of his music through the succeeding generations.
J. S. Bach: Volumes 1 and 2
Independent of his international renown as a humanitarian, Albert Schweitzer is well known as a great musicologist; a reputation that rests largely upon this book. Schweitzer’s J. S. Bach is one of the great full-length studies of the composer, his life, and his work. Its influence on the subsequent performance of Bach’s music was enormous, and there is scarcely a later work on Bach which does not acknowledge a deep debt to Schweitzer’s. Grove’s Dictionary says of the book, “Schweitzer has probably been more quoted than any authority since Spitta.”
The first volume contains a virtual history of Protestant church music, examining the role of music in the early Protestant services of many European countries. Frequent allusions to the parallel development of art and poetry, to the leading philosophic and religious concepts of the time, and to events of contemporary history supplement and enrich the text. Narrowing the study to Germany, Schweitzer traces to their roots the forms used by Bach (with particular emphasis on the German chorale and the forms built around it), and assess the contributions of Schütz, Sheidt, Buxtehude, Pachelbel, and others of Bach’s predecessors. The volume includes a full account of Bach’s life, and discusses his works for organ, clavier, strings, and orchestra. Suggestions for performance include sections on bowing, on playing chords and double stops, and on the practice of ornamentation in Bach’s time.
Volume Two is concerned with Bach’s choral music — the chorales, cantatas, the Magnificat, the St. Matthew and St. John Passions, the motets, songs, oratorios, and masses. The illuminating analysis of these works, illustrated by hundreds of musical examples, is dominated by Schweitzer’s highly original theories regarding Bach’s pictorial representation of the text in the music, and the expressive motives Schweitzer has found and identified throughout Bach’s compositions. A long concluding chapter makes recommendations for performance on tempo, phrasing, accentuation, dynamics, and on the size and arrangement of the orchestra and choir.
Schweitzer’s J. S. Bach is among the definitive reference works on Bach and is high on the list of required reading for music students. Yet it is not a difficult or formidable work. It offers a stimulating, well-written narrative, with much in it to interest the music lover as well as the scholar.
Your Next Holiday Destination: Germany
Destination Germany | Small group tours Germany The Moselle River, which runs through Trier, Germany’s oldest city. Once labelled the “sick man of Europe”, Germany is now the continent’s largest economy and the sixth largest…